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It’s No Silver Screen. Shattuck Cinema Workers Are Going Union

By Dean Dempsey, special to iww.org - May 12, 2006 

Landmark Shattuck Cinema workers are fed up. Years of bad hours, poor pay, a hostile work environment and the demoralizing treatment from theater management has led the Cinema workers of Berkeley, CA, to push for a union; for the One Big Union of the Industrial Workers of the World.

At 4pm on May 12, 2006, approximately 80 Wobblies and supporters gathered in what some hailed as one of the largest IWW gatherings in recent Bay Area history, next to the May Day contingent earlier this month. Theater workers, union organizers and locals from the community attended the rally to demonstrate their solidarity for the union effort, carrying signs that read “An injury to one is an injury to all”, and “Union Now”. A drum team kept the crowd enthused, as they sang union songs and recited pro-worker chants to the public. Some Cinema employees were still on the clock, but were very much committed to participate in the rally while on their breaks, wearing their IWW pins and showing support for the union. Shattuck Cinema organizer, Harjit Gill, says “I think what we see here today is a great success. There has been the participation of IWW members from the past and the present, and those who haven’t been recently active. Ultimately, we’re very excited about this campaign.”

On Monday, May 8th, 2006, 23 out of the theater’s 28 workers turned in authorization cards to the National Labor Relations Board, requesting for representation with the IWW. Among the Shattuck Cinema’s revoking of workers privileges, unfair raise policies, and insufficient breaks, a common concern from workers is the management’s lack of accountability for its actions, and as Cinema employee Lauren Grady says, “When the theater management has a problem, rather than dealing with the worker directly they take our shifts away and cut our hours.” Grady adds, “[They need] to start listening to our concerns and valuing [the] workers. We need our voice to be heard. Its time we had a union!”

On top of these concerns is how the Cinema employee’s receive no health benefits and the hourly pay is over three dollars less than the city of Berkeley’s standard for a living wage. These policies are especially unjust in context of Shattuck Cinema having been bought by Mark Cuban, billionaire and owner of the Dallas Mavericks.

This week marks the beginning of the public effort to unionize the Landmark Shattuck Cinema in Berkeley, with a longer struggle of contract negotiations in the near future. As the vast majority of workers remain highly optimistic and dedicated to organizing their workplace with the IWW, the Shattuck Cinema management has conversed only with their lawyers, saying the cadence of “No Comment” to any media inquires on their employees push for a union. The NRLB has set the date of June 16 as the Cinema’s Election Day for a union. Gill says, “The workers have organized themselves so well that they should be able to win this election without much trouble, with draft-proposals for contracts already developed.” The IWW encourages supporters to call the theaters at 1-888-7-CINEMA, or visit customerservice@landmarktheaters.com and say YES! to the Berkeley Shattuck Union.

Fellow worker and Cinema organizer Bruce Valde notes, “The Cinema industry is not organized and is ripe for it. Draw your own conclusions. I think that we’re going to see other workers at other theaters definitely become interested.” Valde continues, “I’m convinced theater employees are a natural constituency for union organizing, especially in an IWW approach that devotes itself to the workers, unlike a typical business-union.”

Ultimately, a sort of “domino-effect” can occur as the virtually unorganized Cinema industry sees the example that has been set by Shattuck Cinema. This theater is comprised mostly of workers who were not initially involved in the union, and now with their new interest and dedication, new doors have opened for the IWW as we take a lead in Cinema organizing.

Ex-Cinema employee, Jeff Charest, says, “For us to be treated like cattle and without consideration of our livelihood is absolutely unfair. The working conditions I experienced when I was a Cinema employee could undoubtedly be alleviated. It’s time Shattuck Cinema workers went union.”